Battling a deadly disease, Gleason thinks of others


Posted on November 28, 2011 at 6:44 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 28 at 7:18 AM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- The Saints may not be hitting the field until Monday night, but thousands of fans gathered inside Champions Square Sunday.

With music, food, and football, Gleason Gras embodied some of the best New Orleans has to offer.

But the day-long event wasn't just about letting the good times roll. It was a fundraiser for retired Saints safety Steve Gleason.

"This city has just been overwhelming for me in terms of how they rally around the people they love," said Gleason.

The 34-year-old publicly revealed he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, before a sold out crowd in the Superdome September 25th, when he served as honorary team captain and led the traditional "Who Dat" chant.

It was the fifth anniversary of his historic blocked punt against the Atlanta Falcons.

Sunday, Gleason used a cane as he autographed posters and snapped photos with fans.

The deadly, incurable disease attacks the nervous system, eventually leading to loss of muscle control. But Gleason has decided to tackle it head on.

"This is just act one in my opinion," said Gleason. "The ultimate goal here is to raise awareness nationally, globally, towards ALS, you know, and ultimately find a solution and find a cure."

The father of a newborn boy, Gleason is undergoing advanced, experimental treatment. And his non-profit foundation, Team Gleason, is aimed at raising awareness and money to fight the disease.

"Something I've always been pretty good at doing is inspiring people to... really pay attention to what's important in life, and by doing just even one small thing, I think we can create a lot of momentum," said Gleason.

Organizers expected more than 8,000 people to attend Gleason Gras, raising over $200,000. The Louisiana Hospitality Foundation hosted the event, along with the Saints and Rehage Entertainment.

Proceeds will go to the Gleason Family Trust, which supports Gleason and his family directly. Another arm of Team Gleason is the Gleason Initiative Foundation, a non-profit working to help others with ALS.

"If we can just make one person's life different, then we've done something that's worthwhile, and so that's why we're here today," said David Blitch, president of the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation.

The day's musical line-up included Gleason's father-in-law, Paul Varisco and his band, The Milestones.

For many who attended Gleason Gras, his battle hits home.

"I do know somebody who was diagnosed with ALS about a year and a half ago, and I think because the cause doesn't get a lot of recognition, it's just something I want to keep being a part of," said Saints fan Barbie Loisel.

"We were there at the game when he led the chant," said Leslie Wilson. "I started crying."

And for Gleason, the day isn't just about him; it's about the tens of thousands of people in the U.S. who are also fighting ALS. And it's about those who are standing behind the cause.

"New Orleans is built on people who are survivors, and what better place for me to be," said Gleason.

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